The piles of debris sitting on a lot at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and First Street have a purpose.
The broken-up stone curbing is being used to create raised garden beds. The black barrels at the back of the lot will be used to collect rainwater for irrigation. And the piles of wood lath? They're from work on the house there.
Two separate but related things are happening at 20 First Street, an L-shaped lot located directly across from the Public Market. Amber Powers and Greg Shear bought the property and are gutting and rehabbing the two-family house that's on it. But Taproot Collective, an urban agriculture organization, is leasing one leg of the L from the couple and building its First Market Farm on the land. Powers helped found the organization and is active in it.
Everything that's happening at 20 First Street is meant to further urban agriculture in Rochester. And Taproot just received an $18,769 Seed Grant from Foodlink to develop First Market Farm, which will double as a food production space and a place for urban ag education.
Before Taproot went to work on the project, collective members talked with residents and leaders of the Marketview Heights neighborhood, through the Marketview Heights Collective Action Project. The group wanted to make sure that "it's not just us doing stuff here, it's us doing stuff with people here," says farm director Leslie Knox.
The neighbors provided the group with a lot of useful feedback, such as the importance of keeping some grapevines that were growing on a fence at the property's edge, Powers says. And they had thoughts about where the zinnias ought to be planted, too.
The urban homestead will have a spiral herb garden that, like the rest of the space, will be wheelchair accessible, says Knox. It'll also have squash tunnels – wire mesh tunnels for growing squash – as well as a 15-foot by 24-foot greenhouse, a composting area, and most likely some bees.
The farm will use the raised gardens and greenhouse to grow food for Foodlink to distribute to emergency pantries and for neighbors to have. It'll also start seeds for other urban gardens, particularly the Marketview Heights Collective Action Project's Sofrito Garden on North Union Street and its Children's Garden on First Street.
The farm will also partner with Flour City Pickers to distribute food and to compost unusable produce that the group gets in its collections from Public Market vendors. And this summer it'll have some youth workers from the city's Summer of Opportunity program, Knox says.
First Market Farm will offer programs to teach people growing techniques and to share ways they can prepare what they grow. Powers hopes that she and Shear can have a learning space in the house, though for the time being they plan to keep it a two-family residence.
The site was chosen in part because of its proximity to the Public Market, which provides some additional programming opportunities, Powers says.
But ultimately, Taproot hopes to demonstrate what residential-scale gardens can accomplish, to encourage people to grow food and ornamental plants in their neighborhoods, and to help their neighbors reap the community-building benefits of urban agriculture, Powers and Knox say.
"We're building for generations," Powers says.